Taking Stock / Aid for the Downtrodden

1.Former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir belongs to a dying breed of politicians: stubborn, straightforward, principled, and mainly, modest.

He served the Israeli public for decades. Many opposed his views but few doubted his honesty.

So it was intensely discomfiting to see his family try to squeeze money not due it from the state last week. The family asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to arrange for the state to pay for the ailing Shamir to stay at a healthcare institution.

As a former prime minister, Shamir has received a respectable pension and office expenses in the 13 years since leaving office that amount to more than NIS 15 million. Nursing home privileges are not included in the severance packages of former prime ministers.

The Shamirs feel they deserve it, though: he gave his life to serving the country.

But the law says what Shamir deserves. It spells it out. Why does his family think he deserves more? Why is it prepared to submit special requests and lobby the Knesset on its own personal behalf? Is it in tough financial straits?

Far from it. Yair Shamir, Yitzhak's son, is one of the richest men in Israel. Yair, doubtless not impaired by his father's unstained reputation, fulfilled a long list of executive jobs at publicly traded companies. Currently he's chairman of El Al, a job he took just six months ago.

Yair is a millionaire, in dollar, not shekel, terms. In recent years, he waxed fat on stock options from high-tech companies such as Mercury Interactive, taking in millions of dollars. Does a man like that really need succor from the taxpayer to keep his father in a nursing home? Isn't Shamir Sr.'s pension sufficient, all those millions the state already gave him?

One of the nursing home chains hastened to drum up some PR, announcing it would give Shamir a NIS 20,000-a-month suite for free.

So, instead of donating the space to a few wretched retirees without kids who can support them, the suite is being earmarked for a celebrity with a rich family for the sake of a story.

2. On Sunday, lobbyist Amir Gilad launched a fierce attack against television producer Aviv Giladi. The latter had claimed that the whole intervention by lobbyists in the Channel 2 tender is corrupt and Gilad took offense.

Haaretz published Gilad's article because he has the right to defend his profession, and a public debate over lobbying is well due.

But Gilad went overboard. Among other things, he claimed: "In Israel people are learning that lobbying improves the connection between the people and its elected representatives".

Really. What "people" are the lobbyists representing? The taxpayers? The soldiers? National Insurance dependents? Investors in mutual funds? Or in provident funds perhaps?

Not at all: 90 percent of the lobbyists' customers are rich businessmen hiring them to fight against the public interest or to promote some private initiative.

Are the lobbyists hired by Channel 2 operators Keshet, Reshet or Telad representing "the public"? They are not. They are representing Mozi Wertheim, Haim Saban, the Strauss family, Zadik Bino, and all the rest of the companies' shareholders.

Business barons and companies who can afford to hire top-tier lobbyists to fight legislative proposals or whatever are entitled to do so, as long as it's done transparently. And that cannot be said of the way things are done now.

Even if done openly and transparently, please, don't pretty it up with stories about representing the public good. In general, lobbyists represent three types of customers: 1) those who pay, because they can, 2) those who pay, because legislative proposals in the pipeline will ruin them, 3) those who are dear to the Knesset members' hearts, but they need lobbyists as mediators.

3. You can read a thousand articles about salaries and bonuses at publicly traded companies. You can try to penetrate the logic, or lack thereof, you can delve and dabble - or you can read the story of Zvi Mor, the chairman and CEO of Dor Chemicals.

In 2001 and 2002, Dor carried out a series of grandiose acquisitions. Investors on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange couldn't understand them, but Mor explained all. In 2002, he demanded a substantial upgrade to his employment terms and got a million euro bonus - 400,000 euro in cash and 600,000 euro as a kind of advance/loan, which he was to return via future bonuses, by March 2005.

Come 2003, it turned out that the remarkable results Dor presented the year before were artificial - the company had been lenient in its view of accounting standards; and by 2004, it became clear that its acquisitions were generally pretty unwise. The company admitted to a NIS 100 million loss.

From the day Dor approved the handout to Mor, its share price halved in value. Dived 50 percent.

But Mor did not lose his head. No! He has called a general assembly of shareholders to approve rescheduling his advance/loan until 2007, meaning, extend the deadline by three years.

Why three years? Who better than Mor, who in 2001 pitched Dor as a huge success story, knows what three years can do.